Advisory Committee Report
As the largest centralized collection of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in the world, INVAM is unparalleled in its representation of intra-and interspecific diversity. Moreover, protocols have been developed for propagation and culture maintenance that minimize loss of germplasm and assure superior quality control. The size, diversity, and international stature of the collection are a direct reflection of the skills, capacity, and dedication of its curator and staff.
The advisory committee was impressed with the efficiency of INVAM. The daunting task of culturing a large number of accessions is carried out by two core people: the curator (Morton) and his technician (Wheeler). Of particular note is the substantial number of germplasm releases (350-400 per year). International requests for isolates have doubled since the last review (almost 100 per year). Also noteworthy is the wide geographic and taxonomic range of the accessions, most of which have been acquired through active collaborations with scientists in other countries. INVAM serves as a rich source of information for the mycorrhizal user community. The taxonomic, ecological, and applied information contained in the web site is invaluable.
The advisory committee toured the new INVAM facilities in the Agricultural Science Building. The committee was thoroughly impressed with the commitment that the University has invested In INVAM, as it indicates the university is fully behind this project. The lab and office facilities are much improved from Brooks Hall. While the move from Brooks to the South Ag. Sci. Building caused a significant disruption in collection activities, the staff was successful in minimizing the effect of the disruption on INVAM users. The new facilities further enhance efficiency of the every-day activities of INVAM. Some issues with the new greenhouse have arisen. Cultures in the new greenhouse are not as productive in the winter months as they were in the old house. This may be related to insufficient day length in the new greenhouse during certain months (it has an eastern exposure). Temperature control is also an issue. The cooling is inadequate during the hottest summer months. Similarly, the current heating system has trouble keeping up during the winter. We discussed several potential solutions, all of which would be cost-prohibitive. Joe is currently dealing with this limitation by cutting back on growing cultures during the winter months. Even with these issues, INVAM is keeping up with demand for inocula. Morton and Wheeler have become adept at advance planning so that he always has sufficient inocula on hand. As a committee, we feel that this is a very workable solution to these issues.
The committee discussed the use of various cutture media. In an
effort to eliminate soil, Joe has tested various expanded clay media.
This has greatly reduced the presence of soil-borne pathogens. The
testing of these took approximately two years to complete, but was a
necessary task. The committee was pleased that this transition was made
with minimal loss of accessions.
The rate of acquisition of new accessions has decreased in recent years. Most new accessions have come from active collaborations. We suggest that new accessions be solicited on the INVAM web site once it is updated. The committee was pleased to learn that publications citing the use of INVAM material have increased since the last review.
The committee discussed the current fee structure for INVAM material. INVAM charges $50 per culture (200 cc) or $50 for spores (1000-1200 spores) . Based on available information, this fee structure seems reasonable. INVAM routinely performs infectivity assays for commercial operations at $50 per assay. Given the labor involved, we recommend that. Joe consider increasing this price.
The INVAM website is used heavily by the international research community (which has been noted as one of the most actively used in the Davis College). We recommend that usage statistics be collected to have some quantitative measure of user activity. The website was moved to a server maintained by the College, which enhanced security but made access more difficult for making updates. The resolution and quality of images on the website could be improved with modern technology, and new high-resolution images now are available for most species in the collection. Lacking the time to actively maintain the site, we recommend that Morton hire a website designer and java programmer to modernize the site.
In previous reviews, this committee encouraged Morton to develop a comprehensive key for the identification of species. The current committee recognizes the ambiguity of current taxonomic concepts as well as the overwhelming burden of this task. We realize that a great deal of time would be needed to advance with this endeavor. A taxonomic key would require a separate project and a different source of funding. Morton talked about his desire to author a book in the future during a phased retirement. The committee urged Morton to consider applying to NSF for an OPUS grant to publish the wealth of knowledge he has gained over many years.
Substantial progress has been made in the long-term storage of cultures. Joe has been storing some cultures at -80 C. since his access to liquid nitrogen is now limited and cost prohibitive. Recent cultures that have been removed from storage showed a viability of < 60%. Plans involve continuing to remove cultures from cold storage and test stocks for viability. Lyophilization of cultures could provide practical long ¬term preservation; testing is underway but there is an extensive inventory of fungi to examine.
The status of the backup collection at the University of Minnesota is unknown. Bentivenga will be on sabbatical at the UMN during the upcoming year. He will check on the status, and then discuss the possibility of testing some of the stored isolates for viability. The backup collection may become very important for evaluating microevolutionary changes within individual strains provided suitable markers can be found.
The Associate Curator position has not been filled with a person that has the necessary skill set to really help Joe with the collection. We urge Morton to fill the position as soon as possible.
Morton often distributes photographic images via DVD to interested researchers. We encourage him to copyright his photos (and those on the INVAM website) to protect his intellectual property.
Following the recommendation of a previous committee, significant effort was made to obtain DNA sequence data from a large number of isolates (LSU and TUB2 genes). We are pleased with this progress and recommend continued expansion of this database. We encourage the submission of these sequences to GeneBank after suitable publication.
A major asset of the INVAM collection is the large number of isolates within species that are widely distributed and even more widely used. This high level of intraspecific variation opens up interesting possibilities for hypothesis testing. The collection is currently contributing to major studies of the variation in Glomus etunicatum and Glomus intraradices. Previous committees recommended that Morton make efforts to increase accessions of individual species from Archaeospora, Gigaspora, and Scutellospora. The collection is currently attempting to do this as part of a large-scale survey of grasslands in North America.
Morton discussed the possibility that this may be his last INVAM grant, as he is beginning to contemplate retirement. The committee discussed the transition of the collection to a new curator and suggested Bentivenga and/or Bever as candidates, both of whom showed a willingness to entertain that possibility. They felt that facilities at UW Oshkosh and Indiana University are both excellent and could accommodate the collection. Discussions need to continue between Morton, Bentivenga and Bever to facilitate the smooth transition of INVAM to either IU or UWO. These conversations will be facilitated by continued participation in the INVAM review panel.